Ys V: Kefin, the Lost City of Sand (イースV 失われた砂の都ケフィン), released 12/29/1995, Expert version 3/22/1996, developed and published by Nihon Falcom
This is the 5th game in the long running Ys series. The first three games were originally developed for computers and then ported to a bunch of different consoles (usually not by Falcom). Ys IV had that unusual circumstance of having two completely separate games called “Ys IV”, by two separate developers. I believe that Ys V is the first time that Falcom themselves handled the original console release of the game. As of now the game has been released only twice — the original Super Famicom release, and a PS2 remake (or reimagining) in 2006. Since they went back to computers for Ys 6, I would be interested to know why Falcom broke their pattern for 4 and 5. My knowledge of Japanese computers is pretty slight but I wonder whether the Japanese-produced computers, by 1995 or so, had not kept up technologically with the consoles as well as they had before. It took 8 years for Ys VI to come out after this, and by then, the Japanese-specific computers had been supplanted by Windows machines.
Back to Ys V, this actually has two releases. The original, and then an “Expert” version 3 months later. Who knows why they came out with this second version so soon. I chose to play it because it (reportedly) is not that much harder, and fixes some bugs, adds a bonus dungeon, and has a bit of additional content.
For the first time in a top-down Ys game, Adol can swing his sword and block with the shield, and jump, rather than simply running into the enemies to attack. But it maintains the idea of having to approach from the proper angle, and you get bonus damage for attacking from the back or sides. Different swords also have different attack styles (piercing or swinging, etc.)
There’s also a magic system but I found it rather cumbersome to use. You can combine elements you find around into jewels that you then equip to Adol to give him different spells. To use them you have to hold down R until a gauge fills up, then you can use the magic (dependent on your MP). You have a separate magic level that gains XP when you use magic. Honestly I used this a bit when the system was first introduced but I found it so tedious that I just ignored it for the rest of the game.
The story as usual involves the silent protagonist Adol arriving in a new land seeking adventure. This time he has not even brought a sword or armor, just a map of the area. The big discussion in this new area is about Kefin, a lost city that supposedly has a lot of treasure. Also recently monsters have appeared and the desert is encroaching on the rest of the land. Adol agrees to help a rich man in town find Kefin, and the adventure begins, although first our goal is to find the daughter of the item shop owner. The original owner left to try to find Kefin many years ago but he never came back.
I had to level up a bit before I could survive the initial enemies, but once you can buy the basic equipment and maybe are at level 3 or so, it’s not too bad.
Another thing that makes this game much easier than previous entries is that you can carry up to 9 healing herbs and use them in boss battles, so often even if you’re not doing very well avoiding or dealing with the boss’ attacks you can just use a bunch of heals until you win.
The first goal of the game is to find a set of crystals that will supposedly open the way to Kefin. At the same time, there is some ghostly presence named “Stalker” that is following you around, and flashbacks show that he has some wife or girlfriend trapped in ice. Eventually we recover the crystals (and also discover that our original employer is a bad dude) and gain access to Kefin.
Kefin is a huge place. Here Adol finds Stan (the adventurer who disappeared long ago) and also joins a resistance movement against the powers running Kefin. But as I said before, the bosses are all really easy.
In the end this game is quite short, probably 5-8 hours depending on how much you grind. The story is OK but not fleshed out very well, and the gameplay has a lot of useless elements in it. I feel like Falcom was uncertain where to go with the series at this point — the old “run into enemies” thing they did for 1, 2, and 4 was clearly outdated. Perhaps the Super Famicom was not powerful enough, or they just didn’t know how to use it well enough, to do the kind of game they wanted to do.
It’s not a big surprise given this game that it took so long for Ys 6 to come out, and I wonder if fans at the time thought the series was dead. That would have been a fair assumption, but it roared back into action with Ys VI which was a huge hit — but that is a story for a different blog.
If you want to give the game a try go ahead — it won’t take you very long and there is a translation patch.
As a final note, the music is pretty disappointing as well. Falcom games are known for their great Falcom Sound JDK-composed music, but somehow it falls flat here.